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ISSN: 2320-5407 Int. J. Adv. Res.

7(1), 955-961

Journal Homepage: -www.journalijar.com

Article DOI:10.21474/IJAR01/8407
DOI URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.21474/IJAR01/8407

RESEARCH ARTICLE

NATURE REBELS AGAINST HUMANS: A CRITICAL STUDY OF JONATHON HOLMES’ KATRINA.

Sherine Mostafa El Shoura


Associate Professor at English Department Benha.
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Manuscript Info Abstract
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Manuscript History
Received: 14 November 2018
Final Accepted: 16 December 2018
Published: January 2019
Copy Right, IJAR, 2017,. All rights reserved.
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Introduction:-
Humans have been selfish in their relation with nature and aggressive towards the nature properties. To get benefits
to themselves alone and to fulfill their many interests, Humans exploit the surrounding natural blessings and deprive
the Earth of its healthy existence and heavenly divine look. They have been the cause of different gigantic problems
to the planet‟s ecosystems which, in return, have caused uncontrollable physical and psychological catastrophes.
They for instance pollute air, water and soil, clear away forests, acidify rains, expand deserts, kill animals and
plants, and change the climate. Humans become victims of what they have done towards environment. This study is
an attempt to show the psychological effects resulting from the human-inflicted environmental traumas as reflected
in Jonathan Holms‟ (1975- ) play Katrina (2010). Katrina presents a detailed image of the sufferings of different
sections of people, from different destructive ecological occurrences, to show how man pays the high costs of his
anti-natural thoughtless transgression.

Humans have committed intentional violence against the surrounding natural environment through many attitudes
that steal the health of nature and poison the life of humans. As a result to that, the Earth‟s ecosystems that undergo
men-systemized distortion come to say „enough‟ and stop keeping balanced and under control. The symptoms of this
environmental fatigue take the form of natural disasters. They conceived as the language of the aching planet to grab
the attention of those who insist on turning off their eyes and ears to keep themselves away from thinking about the
fatal destiny they push the Earth towards.

Man has long forgotten that the Earth was given to him for usufruct alone, not for consumption, still less for
profligate waste. Nature has provided against the absolute destruction of any of her elementary matter, the raw
material of her work; the thunderbolt and the tornado, the most conclusive throes of even the volcano and the
earthquake ---.(Merchant 328)

Natural disasters are understood as nature-related occurrences that are “some of the traumatic events” (Baumeister
11). They result from the earth‟s diminished sustainability and human‟s thoughtless insistence on destroying the
remnants of its ecosystems. On the other hand, they have detrimental impacts on humanity that despite not being the
attacker in this fight cannot be held guiltless. This is because it is the human misdoings and abusive attitudes that
have in the first place brought about the whole globe to such a stage of utter where all ways of salvation are blocked.

When natural disasters hit a particular community, its people get confronted with slew problems that move beyond
their ability to cope with. They cause severe damages to build infrastructure that need large sums of money to be

Corresponding Author:-Sherine Mostafa El Shoura.


Address:-Associate Professor at English Department Benha. 955
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repaired. Also, “they may---result in the release of hazardous materials such as chemicals which are usually stored in
a safe environment” (Middlemann 3). These materials can contaminate the environment the disaster ends up in, and
people and animals are killed as a result. They are unwillingly exposed to extremely violent events that lead to the
death of oneself or witnessing the death of a loved one. If they are not dead, they are likely to get physically injured
and probably psychologically wounded as a direct outcome of the distortion of their pre-disaster. They become
friends with sensations as dejection, depression, anxiety, nostalgia, loneliness, homelessness, hopelessness, and
worthlessness. That is to say those natural disaster victims are fated to experience every sort of torture and
excoriation physically and mentally with very slight hope of getting completely recovered:

The threat, fear and terror are experienced at the familial and community levels--The calamity makes an impact on
the family and community structure dynamics, networks and cohesion. The social fabric is torn asunder; people are
uprooted from their familiar habitat. Indispensible family members usually leaders or breadwinners are killed, made
to disappear or separated. The way the family and community function changes. Basic trust and hope are lost; the
glue that held the relationships and networks together is destroyed. Often there is family and social dysfunction and
problems arise in coping with the situation--. (Somasundaram 1)

HurricaneKatrina is the deadliest and most catastrophic natural disaster that hit United States of America. It hit New
Orleans, Louisiana, and devastated the Gulf Coast of the United States on August 29, 2005. It caused the decease of
near 2000 people, displaced thousands, and made the struck areas completely unlivable:

This was one of the worst storms in U.S. history---. Hurricane Katrina did so much damage that hundreds of
thousands of people could not go home for months. The hurricane destroyed everything in its path. It wiped out
neighborhoods, businesses, schools, and hospitals---. The storm ripped apart buildings. It tore down power lines. It
snapped trees like matchsticks. (Woods and Michael 4)

Hurricane Katrina is “a destabilizing event---that---is something more than a traditional disaster” (Brusma 1-2). It is
an experience that culture and literature cannot pay insufficient attention to. They take an urgent responsibility to let
those who have not share in the catastrophe to know about it through media, literature and films. Kirby states in his
essay “An American Tragedy: Reading the Rhetoric of Disaster in Hurricane Katrina” that “one of the places where
we most see the influence of Katrina is in literature, film, and popular culture that has emerged after the storm”
(200). Writers and artists cooperateto give voice to the victims of hurricane Katrina. Some use their works to
investigate all the consequent physical, emotional, and social torments; and others write to find a means of venting
pains and recovering injuries:

A wealth of post-Katrina literature---seeks to give voice to the victims of the storm, chronicle the government
mishandling, and recover and preserve the very unique nature of New Orleans culture. Whether in the form of
nonfiction, fiction, or poetry, writers seek to narrate the Katrina experience and---participate in Blancot‟s exercise of
„writing the disaster‟. (Kirby 200)

In 2010, the British dramatist Jonathon Holmes writes Katrina in which he uses survivors‟ testimonies to bring to
light the episodes of suffering and anguish directly after the storm. It is a play that revealed the environmental
disaster and related the ecological trauma to the human one. Itpresents a detailed image of the countless misfortunes
during a hurricane experience in an advanced countrylike the U. S. The play, more importantly, gives its addresses a
condensed doze of the negative emotions that victims come to experience as a result. Itshows how nature‟s attack is
uncontrollable and frameless, and how it takes a toll upon everybody and no one can flee its impacts especially the
vulnerable: the poor, the black, the elder, the young and the females: “Both human made and natural catastrophes
can leave the poorest, the youngest, the oldest, and the weakest in highly vulnerable positions” (Levers 13).

Katrina is totally constructed around the testimonies of six New Orleans survivors. These testimonies are mixed with
statements of some American officials like Governor as well as some notes and inquiries by some journalists. The
authenticity of the play‟s material is reinforced by the dramatist through a variety of means: a direct introductory
note which reads: “Some of Beatrice‟s testimony has been adjusted. Everything spoken by any other character is
entirely verbatim and garnered from interviews and accounts written by those concerned” (Katrina 5). The stage
direction of the play is: “The testimony in this section is reproduced wherever possible from authentic recording”
(13), and the playback of the records of the authentic words and speeches by real survivors.

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The central thread of the plotline of Katrina is vigil who is an old New Orleans cancer patient and his woman,
Beatrice. With the landfall of hurricane Katrina, the rising water has trapped all residents and prevented Beatrice
from refilling the oxygen cylinders without which Virgil cannot breathe. As a result of that she passes away.
Beatrice insists not to leave Vigil‟s dead body to the fatal hurricane and instead she carries it safely on a wooden
door to City Hall so that she can give him “a decent set-off” (Billington: “Katrina” theguardian.com). She goes back
to the City Hall in order to bury Virgil. She takes the audience to the place where they can share the awful fate all
New Orleans people have come to meet as the storm has arrived and nature said its word. To tell the public how the
natural systems‟ disruption has brought about an aching disruption of the human life‟s system that results directly in
death and forever loss, Beatrice admits in her testimony that the City Hall is full of corpses. She admits that she is
not the only family member who stands helpless to catch the last look at her dead love:

We got to the City. And the place was one long stretch of bodies, like after a war. Under tarps, under blankets;
grieving families all around, frozen like they were status in a cemetery or some sort of parade, paused like on a
video. So we joined them, sat ourselves down, and we waited. And this time when they eventually came to take
Virgil away, I did not look back. (Katrina 39)

As her testimony tells, though Virgil was sick, his death shocks Beatrice and appears unimaginable to her. In most
of Beatrice‟s talk to the audience about her tour through New Orleans to City Hall, she uses the second person
pronoun as if Virgil were still alive. She unconsciously denies that Virgil is no longer alive and acts as ifhe were still
there sharing the awful journey of finding a shelter from hurricane:

I couldn‟t do it all at once. I had to rest, to sleep---. And we found a platform high up to stretch out and sleep on--.
And we went up higher and higher till we found our safety. And we took our rest. (36)

In fact, with the coming of hurricane Katrina, Katrina‟s four survivors‟ system of dissociation and constriction,
which are the most common coping mechanisms trauma victims adapt, are damaged. Their efforts to disconnect
themselves from all the ways of the memories and feelings of their previous traumatic times of their lives
completely fail. Therefore, they are rendered victims of a double trauma, and they are plagued with memories of
experiences that move out of Katrina‟s time spam.

Miranda is “frozen in her mourning testifying to events with compulsive sorrow” (Romanska 229). In her testimony,
Miranda is haunted with memories of her unfortunate childhood. She says that as a child she lived in utter loneliness
resulting from the irresponsibility of her parents who should have been the kindest caregivers ever. Their home was
free of the familial bonds, and the feelings of stability, security, care, belonging and inclusion had no slight
existence.

I was born out of wedlock. My dad was addicted to alcohol and my mom was addicted to him. I see the days with no
light and water in the house. I see the days I couldn‟t find my mom or dad. (Katrina 16)

Miranda starts her flashbacks to the horrors of the storm so that recipients can share the burden of New Orleans
victims whose “collectivity suddenly shifts in an unforeseen and unwelcome manner” (Alexander 2); and are
consequently exhausted, lost, separated from their families, abandoned by theircommunity. She and her daughter
were forced to leave their house and take shelter near school where the water had not arrived yet. She volunteered to
help her neighbors escape death as their houses came totally underwater: “We left the house and we went up on the
roof of a school. I took a crowbar and I burst the door on the roof of the school to help people on the roof. Later on
we found a flat boat, and we went around the neighborhood getting people out of their houses and bringing them to
the school” (Katrina 17). She also remembers the wild alligators brought by the flooding water of the Mississippi
River and the dead bodies of their New Orleans counterparts floating in the water: “We heard alligators had come
in…and they were eating people…We had to walk over bodies of dead people” (Katrina 23).

Daniel, a prisoner, is another victim of hurricane Katrina who gives a space to the suffering of those whom the
American society overlooks their pains and tearing wounds during such conditions as the hurricane. He describes to
his addresses how it does mean to be attacked by mountains of water while being incarcerated in small cells where
there was no place to go to escape death. The guards offered no one of those inmates any help to get out or to go
anywhere water cannot reach. They went through hour-long nightmare in which they were struggling against the

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rising water, locked cells, thick darkness, surrounding horror, and indifferent officials who mercilessly insisted to
keep them stuck in prison while thousands fled the flooded city.

As an eye-witness of such fear, Daniel says that they went on shouting and kicking the doors of their cells in an
attempt to get help. They fired clothes and wrote signs to tell those who were outside that there were people inside
the jail who were still not allowed to evacuate. Though most of them were not put in jail for serious crimes, their
cries were not responded to and no aid was offered (Welch vice.com). After a time of no national reactions and
fragile efforts of self-help, some inmates died and their peers saw their bodies floating in the surrounding water that
was quickly rising toward the ceiling.

And no one came to help. The water had gone from chest high to high. Guys were on the top bunk with their head
stuck out the ceiling to get air. They couldn‟t hold their breath that long. We weren‟t trying to break out to get out of
jail, we breakin‟out to save lives. (Katrina 20-21)

These words define one of the most degrading situations that can ever be witnessed brought about by the natural
ecosystems‟ anti-humanity attack. They reveal Daniel‟s feelings of worthless and even nothingness that usually
accompany trauma patients because “other human beings they once respected and whose good will they once
counted on treat them with such icy contempt” (Erikson 193) and defy any kind of resistance. In fact, those
prisoners, left in those horrible conditions, many of them “were held for minor violations, and some had not been
charged” (Michaels, wsws.org), are considered one of the scandals the U.S justice system that Katrina directs wide
attention to.

Actually, the storm of Katrina reminds Daniel of the pre-storm 15 years ago in prison. He states that before the
attack of hurricane Katrina in 2005, Daniel spent 15 years in prison for the accusation of killing someone whom he
did not. He paid a long time of his life in place of real convict behind bars while doing nothing threatening to the
national safety and human security before he was proved innocent. However, his innocence never guaranteed him as
agony-free life in community like the United States. He saysthat he was disdained and treated as a murderer
regardless of the newly unveiled realities that was not guilty. He was not offered proper job opportunities; and when
he was, he was quickly fired because of being one day a convict: “Since then I‟ve been job to job. It‟s real tough,
because no one wants to hear that you were innocent. All they know is that you were on death row” (Katrina 1, 17).
Daniel was arrested again with no particular charge and guiltlessly put in jail on the eve of the disaster that
converted the entire city into a large jail and all New Orleans into convicts. He was forced to re-encounter the bitter
days of prison that were excepted to be extremely soar with the dominating natural deterioration while having no
one to stand beside and support in his double faced trauma as a prisoner and natural disaster survivor:

Night before Katrina, the police pulled me in.No reason, just knew my name. So I‟m in central lockup, and I‟m like,
this is a nightmare. I‟m seeing death row again, everything is flashing back. I don‟t want to see thisno more. I used
the phone, but there wasn‟t anyone to call. I called my family---. They had to leave, so I have to stay here and wait
the storm out. (Katrina 17)

Cal is another victim of nature‟s revolution againsthumans. He is a victimof trauma against which he is involved in a
severe fight with the landfall of Katrina. The hurricane tragedies stimulate his memories of the extremely sorrowful
life he certainly works hard to defy and keep repressed in his unconscious in order to be capable of going on. In his
testimony, he reveals that he lost the source of unconditional love which is generally destabilizing experience and is
a great cause of lifelong disillusionment, unease, and trouble. Cal admits that the loss of his mother drove him to the
despair. He said, “I went crazy, I went crazy, man. That‟s how I‟ve been living for a long time. Sometimes, man, I
be kind a like welcoming death” (Katrina 18).

Cal‟s flow of trauma memories takes a national direction. He is burdened with the tragic times New Orleans‟ people
went through during the staggering attendance of Katrina. To arrive a place which was not much flooded, he had to
cross two miles of water in complete darkness and with no helping means. He was forced to stroke such a long
distance during which he met many survivors scattered in the underwater streets without any kind of anti-disaster for
those in power. Everything was damaged and flight around even the corpses of many citizens who dropped dead of
the dysfunctional surroundings, turning the survivors‟ days of waiting extremely terrifying and frustrating:

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We‟re right there in the ninth ward during the storm, so we can see everything. We look out and we‟re like All right,
well, shit, man, all this water rolling like this, there ain‟tchillin‟, just look‟ at this Hurricane, Katrina tearin‟it up.
(Katrina 20)

Larry and Lorry‟s memories illustrate the struggle of the underwater city‟s tourists against the hurricane‟s
experiences. Larry says, “We were repeatedly told that all sorts of resources including the National Guard and scores
of buses were pouring into the city. The buses and the other resources must have been invisible because none of us
had seen them” (Katrina 24). Larry and Lorry give reports on the officers‟ inhumane reactions against the crowds
who tried to get out of the city till the end of the storm: “they began firing their weapons over our heads--. This sent
the crowd fleeing in various directions” (27). Larry and Lorry are astonished that all these hundreds were so
invisible and their shouts were completely unheard. Though they had a place to take shelter in –the hotel-, the living
conditions got poorer as time moved on and helps never arrived. The situation got worst when they were turned out
of the hotel and left to search for a place to protect themselves from the hurricane‟s impacts. As Lorry describes, all
of them were consequently thrown into increasing “desperation and despair” (24), especially when seeing dead
bodies scattered in the rising water, survivors wading miles in quest of rescue, and the weak, “babies in strollers---
people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and others in wheel chairs” (24), thwarted in streets with nothing to
do to defy death.

Katrina‟s survivors testimonies are “never complete, and highly charged with black spots of the inexpressible
experience” (Laub and Andreas 11). They sometimes stop talking about their past experiences and stand silent. This
silence is an intentional one as “the victim attempts to suppress what is recalled so as not to relive victimization
countless time, or finds it repressed by some part of himself which functions as a stranger, hiding from the self‟s
experience” (Culbertson 69). Holms gives his audience the impression that survivors go through episodes of
isolation and detachment in reaction to trauma by making everyone of them totally separated from his/her
counterparts. There are no dialogues, actions, and interactions. Every one of them only addresses the audience as if
no one else exists. They feel detached and isolated from others and unable to develop relationships with those whom
they have around. Actually, this isolation is not a choice. Victims are battered and abused by a traumatic event and
are forced to stay away from people and found refuge in loneliness. This is due to the fact thatthey feel that others
cannot bear. This attitude of detachment is said to stop being influential after some time:

To a degree, isolation and avoidance are workable strategies, and many traumatized persons have followed these
strategies for years. Ultimately, however, when distress mounts---isolation is no longer an effective strategy.
Paradoxically, while you‟re seeking safety in isolation, you also may feel more vulnerable, having given up the
potential safety of secure attachment. Moreover, isolation is depressing. (Allen 118)

As a work of verbatim theatre, Katrina is “freed---from some of the burdens of conventional play writing” (Paget
318).This is because Jonathan believes that the role of verbatim playwright is to confuse the audience, get them out
of their classically thought of how theatre work should be, and give them “the impression that they are creating the
whole, completing the work through their investment participation and interpretation” (Jeffers 5-6). So, they are
forced to work on their own to craft the story in its fill form and put the suitable end to make up for the unfinished
nature of piece. The events of Katrina do not have a beginning, middle or an end. The play is not divided into acts
and scenes but rather into four stories. Every story is tourist information ofbureau; the second one is a replica of the
bar where audience hears warnings of an impending hurricane. Thethird story is set in a completely smashed version
of the bar which hosts the central section or Katrina‟s survivors‟ testimonies that stand “as the eye of the emotional
storm” (Cavendish telegram.com) that accompanies the natural one. The fourth story is devoted to Virgil‟s funeral.

The four stories are designed in the way that provides the spectators with a storm struck place mood. In story one,
the stage directions read: “Auditors are given disposable rain coverings…As they enter the building they ascend a
staircase, the sides of which are recognizable as corroded and groaning levee walls” (Katrina 9). To give them the
feeling of being actually in New Orleans, the staircaseleading upwards to the third floor where survivors wait “is
graffitied: „Abandon hope all ye‟, FEMA evacuation strategy: run, motherfucker, run!” (Katrina 13). The story itself
is a bar which is totally smashed by the water and wind. The audience is not allowed to have a seat and stand all
along the time the victims tell their stories of trauma. Holmes reveals that attitude saying: “The more body is
engaged on its own terms with the work, the more those attending are involved, implicated, and affected by the
experience”(“Theatre and experience” 2).

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Actors in Katrina directly address the testimonies of the real people they perform their roles to the audience and
intentionally snatch them away from the frame of watching to the one participating (Koenig independent.co). This
leads to establish a natural relationship between the actors and audience. It frees the audience from any senses of
empathy and instead involves them in thinking processes regarding what gets disclosed before their eyes. Holmes
states that collapsing the fourth wall set up between the actors and audience is a form of a reimagining of the role of
the audience:

It ceases to be a band of consumers, paying for the familiar, and becomes instead a collective of witness; vital to the
event‟s integrity…auditors and spectators are free to choose how closely they engage with the material and how
involved they become in the unfolding events. This is clearest when testimony is at the heart of the experience, as in
Katrina, the audience is witness to a form of public hearing of untold stories. (2)

Holmes uses technological devices to create the suitable context within which the survivors‟ stories can be retold.
The first and second rooms the audience enters are equipped with TV set constantly broadcasting a „Come to New
Orleans‟ video that presents the wonderful blessings of New Orleans as a touristic city as well as “meteorological
maps and imagery of the hurricane” (Katrina 11). They also have public address systems (screens, speakers,
amplifiers) via which the audience can read and hear the repeatedly announced hurricane related new and authentic
archive statements by officials and journalists (9).

Hurricane Katrina is one of the greatest natural disasters that hit United States. It is the cause of countless deaths and
losses among New Orleans‟ citizens. It has disrupted every day, normal routines of African-American collectives as
well as the set of needs generally important for all human being. It has forcefully changed families‟ structure and
separated people from the ones they love and feel comfortable to be close to. New Orleans people are caused to
leave their homes and feel excessive terror, insecurity, and instability as a consequence of the long suffering nature‟s
response. They are also caused to be not only degraded by the attack of the natural world, but also by the unjust
human polices. As they make up a part of the black and poor ethnicities in the U.S., they are kept invisible and their
tragedies are kept overlooked. They are not hot offered aids and rescue means, left on their own in the face of
hurricane led catastrophe havoc, and their efforts to keep themselves out of the reach of death are even inhumanity
hindered by those on the top. Hence, hurricane Katrina can be considered as a human disaster as well as natural one.
This is due to the fact that its fatalities never result from natural deterioration alone but also more severely from the
human deterioration and pure inhumanity piercing the globe‟s crown creature: Man.

Through approaching the serious problem of environmental deterioration which is now the topconcern of the whole
world, one feels that key solution that can curb the uncontrollable eco-degradation is drastic change in the
humanity‟s code of the thoughts and morals in relation to the beings to stop thinking that they are able to exist alone
without the support of what they are surrounded by. They must know that they have no right to be completely
egocentric or to perceive themselves as more important than the other living beings.Humans must instead take the
initiative and be the first to take action to re-imagine their relationship with the nonhuman world. They are the ones
who should stop their abusive communication and design mutually beneficial living arrangements so that both teams
can live peacefullywithout any misdeeds and aggressive responses, and so a perfect reversal trauma can possibly
take place. Humans are the actual starting point of the cycle that must be the source of healing and the point that
ends that long series of those uneasy sufferings.

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